Crania lateral. © John Hawks / Wits University
Scientists in South Africa have unearthed a new species of human relative in a burial chamber deep down in a remote cave system, naming it Homo naledi. It’s the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the continent.

It’s believed the discovery, consisting of over 1,550 numbered fossil elements representing at least 15 individuals, may “alter views of human behavior.” Paleontologists have come to the conclusion that H. naledi deliberately deposited bodies of their dead in a remote cave chamber – behavior previously thought limited exclusively to humans.

According to scientists, H. naledi had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange (about 500 cubic cm), perched atop of a “very slender body.”

Homo naledi skull. © Wits University

The research, published in the journal Elife, shows that on average H. naledi stood approximately 150cm tall and weighed about 45kg. Its teeth are described as similar to those of the earliest-known members of our genus, such as Homo hanilis, as are most features of the skull. The shoulders, however, are more similar to those of apes.

Their hands meanwhile suggest “tool-using capabilities,” according to Dr. Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, UK.

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